L.A.'s mayor declared a homeless emergency. A new lawsuit says it should be repealed

A Westside-based nonprofit group filed a lawsuit Monday that seeks to strike down Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass’ declaration of a local emergency on homelessness and housing, calling it a “vast and illegal expansion of mayoral power.”

Fix the City, which has sued city government several times over planning and development decisions, said in its lawsuit that the mayor’s declaration improperly eliminates competitive bidding, undermining “the state’s objective of ensuring fairness, transparency, and fiscal responsibility in public procurement.”

The lawsuit said the mayor’s declaration, and accompanying directives, have allowed 100% affordable housing developments to circumvent the city’s planning review process, eliminating “public hearings, due process and the right of appeal” for such projects.

“By doing so, the mayor permits years of construction for which development planning oversight is non-existent,” the lawsuit says. “That is but one long term impact on the citizens of the City of Los Angeles.”

A Bass aide did not immediately rebut the claims in the lawsuit, which appears to be the first major legal challenge to the mayor’s homelessness initiatives.

“The complaint was just filed,” said mayoral spokesperson Clara Karger, “and we will take time to review it.”

The lawsuit seeks to rescind three executive orders issued by Bass as part of the homelessness emergency, two of which were written to speed up the city’s review and approval of homeless shelters and affordable housing. A third serves as the backbone of the mayor’s Inside Safe initiative, which has been moving unhoused residents off the streets and into temporary and permanent housing.

In recent weeks, Bass has touted the city’s progress in addressing the crisis, saying her first executive order helped speed up the city’s processing of more than 7,000 affordable housing units.

“This is what urgency looks like,” Bass said last week, celebrating the completion of an affordable housing development in Hollywood. “Approval processes that used to take six months are taking 47 days.”

An aide to City Atty. Hydee Feldstein Soto declined comment, saying the office does not comment on pending litigation. But Councilmember Nithya Raman said the lawsuit, if successful, would harm the city’s effort to fight homelessness, slowing down efforts to produce various types of housing.

“This is a crisis, and a moment, that demands that we use every tool in our toolbox to address it,” Raman said.

Bass declared a state of emergency on homelessness in December, taking that step on her first day in office. The declaration was designed to speed up the process of building temporary and permanent housing, in part by allowing the mayor’s office to make contracting decisions that don’t require competitive bidding or City Council approval.

The council approved the declaration and reupped it on a monthly basis until July, when the mayor prepared a new, reworked emergency declaration.

That order, which is still in place, authorizes Bass to commandeer property and use it for temporary housing, suspend competitive bidding on contracts that last less than a year and issue orders and directives aimed at addressing the housing and homelessness emergency.

In its lawsuit, Fix the City questioned the justification for the emergency declaration, saying the city’s homelessness and housing affordability problems are “chronic in nature,” not “sudden or unexpected.” In the years before Bass took office, Mayor Eric Garcetti declared a shelter crisis, which provided city leaders additional measures for combating homelessness, said Mike Eveloff, president of Fix the City.

“We’re not trying to get the city to stop addressing homelessness. They have the tools they need to do that,” he said. “We’re trying to avoid the loss of due process and transparency, which are all needed to avoid corruption, which we’ve seen far too much of.”

Fix the City has taken aim at an array of land-use decisions in various parts of L.A., focusing most recently on a proposal for a 30-bed homeless shelter planned on Pico Boulevard. In 2013, the organization was one of several that successfully struck down the city’s update to the Hollywood Community Plan, which lays out the development strategy for that part of the city.

It took the planning department a decade to rewrite that document, which was approved by the council in May. A month later, Fix the City sued again, asking a judge to overturn it.

Monday’s lawsuit was prepared by Robert P. Silverstein, an attorney who, on behalf of his clients, succeeded in overturning approval of construction projects in Hollywood and elsewhere.


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